This week, I cut about 20cm off my hair. I didn’t cut it out of fear of the hairdressers closing again. I’ve cut my hair short before. This time, it did feel liberating. It showed me that I could control a change in my life. So many changes that I had no control over, feel forced upon me this year. As frivolous as it sounds, a dramatic haircut gave me hope. Hope that not everything that is happening right now is out of my control. Enrolling in a 10-week yoga course, reading a book, opting into taking a step back and simply breathe have let me get things done.
Black and White Thinking
Have you found yourself caught thinking any of the following lately?
I am an utter failure. …the world is falling apart right now. ….I have no friends. …This is all her fault. ….If I just have this, I’ll be happy. …..She / He / It is always like this….
These statements are an example of Black and White Thinking. This is an All or Nothing mindset. It lacks nuance, is very fixed, and rooted in the emotion of fear. A way of recognising Black and White Thinking is hearing qualifying words to describe life as it is now. Some of these words are:
Generally, these words are fine. But, when an experience is described heavily through these words, it is seen through a lens of Black and White.
Black and White thinking can hurt you in many ways. It can harm your relationships. You see people, and life in general categorised as one thing or the other. Good or Bad. You are unable to recognise that it is a behaviour that you might find undesirable.
It also curbs your ability to learn and grow. I practice yoga and I admire Kino MacGregor. I know I will never be as agile as her. If I turned up to my yoga mat berating myself for this, I would not be able to learn and grow. Instead, I check-in with myself at that moment and I let my own practice happen. Over the years, in small incremental steps, my practice has grown and evolved. Some days are better than others. I don’t believe that Kino MacGregor is better than I am. I recognise that we are different, multi-faceted people, who have a lot to offer.
When caught thinking in Black and White, we can’t see that every person and every event, has many causes for being that way. Realising this helps build compassion towards yourself and others. Not catching the Black and White thinking can cause you to spiral into a pattern of rumination.
Ruminating – the danger of dwelling
“There are more things, Lucilius, that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
Overthinking the same limiting thoughts, which are sad and heavy, is rumination. A habit of rumination can be dangerous as it impairs your ability to process emotions. It leads to finding a worst-case scenario and believing that you are living in it.
I loathe when I express how I feel, and someone tells me to think positively. Emotions are there to feel and process. In doing this, you release them, you don’t bottle them down to become something bigger and darker. You also discover that emotions are not to fear, that like thoughts, they pass. This is important.
And thinking positively without addressing the emotion is like a big pink elephant in the room. The issue remains.
Learning how to question your perception can give you more personal control. How you think about the emotion might well change but exploring it is an important step. Challenging your perception can be painful if you have been in a Black and White loop. You might come up against internal resistance. When I do this, I remind myself that I am safe at this moment.
Changing perception is an exploratory process. We move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Arriving at a place where we see a bigger picture which is multi-coloured and muddled. We have a more macro perspective and experience.
We understand deep down that every person and every event is the way they are because of many causes. This builds compassion. It also gives more personal control as you are more aware of what makes the bigger picture.
What is in my Control?
In a bookshop in India, I met Tenzin Bagdro, a Tibetan monk who spent three years in captivity by the Chinese. He had indented marks on his wrists from being strung up in a prison cell for days on end. Arriving in India, he was brought straight to hospital. French President, Francois Mitterand and his wife Danielle came on a tour of India. Danielle was visiting a ward in with Tibetan refugees. Seeing Tenzin’s condition, she arranged specialised care in France, saving his life.
Saying our goodbyes, he told me to always remember I have choices. We will all find ourselves in a torture chamber at some point in our lives and remember we have choices, even then. We can have things taken from us and done to us, and deep down, we have the power to choose freedom from believing this moment is the worst. I was staying in a guesthouse run by a Tibetan man and I told him this story. He too fled Tibet, across the Himalayas, and arrived in India. What helps him is acknowledging the facts about the situation and then choosing how to respond to it. He keeps his life simple.
Pointing to his heart, he said that if this is open, life is good. Keeping it open is a daily practice.
Two Things are True
When you feel that your back is up against the wall, remembering that you have choices can be a fanciful notion.
When faced with an adverse situation, I find two things that are a fact, not an opinion, about it. One is a broad fact about the world, and the other is a specific fact about you.
Why is this helpful?
It gives perspective. It shows me that I have a choice. It removes a sense of powerlessness.
Right now, what two things are true?
- Covid has affected my life and I feel sad from time to time
- The restrictions are hard to process and I went for a lovely walk today.
- The number of cases is increasing and I understand that means further restrictions.
- Further restrictions begin Monday and I ate a nourishing dinner today.
Two Truths is a practical strategy to ground yourself in this moment. You connect with yourself when you do this and regain a sense of personal control. It enables a view of the bigger picture, thus encouraging a sense of safety and compassion.
We feel seen, we become less defensive, more flexible, and stronger in the face of adversity.
Try it for yourself. I’d love to hear how you get on.
Practice it, review to ensure you are stating facts, not opinions. Write a list of them, say it out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror. This is not a reframing exercise, it is one to help you see what else is going on right now. It helps you notice more about you and your experience of the world.
The American Historian Alice Morse Earle wrote “Every day might not be good, but there is some good in every day.”
Until next week,
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